Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report – Sun 12 January 2014
Boat: M.V. Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsfield
A calm day at sea with us in baking sunshine for most of the day. Combined sea/swell <1m with only the slightest wind chop from the gentle north / north-east breeze. Water temperature at the shelf was predicted to be around 22.8 degrees.
Two juvenile (or immature?) White-tailed Tropicbirds were the highlight in an otherwise quiet but entertaining pelagic. 3 Sooty Terns and a Long-tailed Jaeger were also seen, with 3 albatross species being unusual for Port Stephens in the height of summer.
DepartedNelson Bay Public Wharfat 0705 returning at 1630.
In contrast to ‘typical’ summer pelagics there was very little interest in the boat and berley from the local Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Instead, most birds that we saw were flushed from the sea surface, owing presumably to the lack of wind. A group of 3 Fluttering-type Shearwaters were seen in the wake and seen reasonably well (and photographed) to be able to confirm 2 of them as Hutton’s Shearwaters. About half way out when some wedgies were actually following us a lone Long-tailed Jaeger attended the wake of the boat. An adult Shy (type) Albatross was an unexpected sighting also en-route to the deep water.
Just short of the shelf and with about a dozen wedgies and one or two Fleshy-footed Shearwaters behind the boat (which were again scarce), a very white bird was seen to lift of the water about 100m to the south. A second bird went with it and the call of “White Tern!” went out. However, it did not take long before we realised we were looking at a couple of young tropicbirds. Views were quite awkward into a bright sky as the birds flew high above the boat and eventually flew south. Photographs confirmed them as juvenile (possibly 2nd year?) White-tailed Tropicbirds, a new bird for many observers on board. An adult Sooty Tern was also at the same location.
We continued to the shelf and set up a drift at 32 55 43s 152 36 3e. Very little interest was shown in the berley and with the glassy conditions and somewhat ‘lazy’ birds we thought we would be in for a quiet day. This was largely the case and was typified by the fact that the first petrel for the day (one of 3 Grey-faced Petrels) was first seen sitting on the water only metres from the boat! Some excitement was caused when a beautiful metre-long Mahi Mahi (Common Dolphinfish) swam under the boat, displaying its incredible blue and green hues on its dorsal surface. The same fish was seen a few times later on. This was more than reasonable evidence that the water was quite warm.
A third Sooty Tern came in before a Wandering (type) albatross appeared on the north side of the bow, identified as an adult Gibson’s (Antipodean). We finished the drift at 32 57 10s 152 35 7e and made a very uneventful trip back to port, adding only a Short-tailed Shearwater and immature Black-browed (type) Albatross to the list, along with closer views of very stand-offish Pomarine Jaegers and a distant adult Australasian Gannet.
All in all it was a slow but entertaining and somewhat unusual pelagic with a mix of cold and warm water birds with the albatross flying north and tropicbirds flying south. It was also the first Port Stephens pelagic where no storm-petrels had been recorded.
Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time) – note that many are approximations.
Antipodean (Gibson’s) Albatross: 1
Black-browed (type) Albatross: 1
Shy (type) Albatross: 1
Short-tailed Shearwater: 1
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 5 (2)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 250 (40)
Fluttering Shearwater: 1
Hutton’s Shearwater: 3 (2)
Fluttering (type) Shearwater: 5+
Great-winged (Grey-faced) Petrel: 3 (2)
Australasian Gannet: 1
WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD: 2 (2)
Crested Tern: 3 (2)
Sooty Tern: 3 (2)
Pomarine Jaeger: 3 (1)
Long-tailed Jaeger: 1
Silver Gull: 2 (1)
White-bellied Sea-Eagle: 1
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: 10+
Mahi Mahi (Common Dolphinfish): 1